One helpful way to think about condensed matter is in terms of relative energy scales. This can help one decide what is important and what is not.
However, this does not always work, particularly in complex systems where new low energy scales can emerge.
For a long time there has been a "minor detail" about organic charge transfer salts based on the BEDT-TTF molecule that I have found rather annoying and puzzling.
It concerns the role of ethylene end groups on the molecule and their possible different conformations (eclipsed vs. staggered).
Why should the conformations matter?
I would think not. The overlap of the relevant electronic molecular orbitals which are largely centred on sulphur atoms are negligible as seen below in the HOMO (Highest Occupied Molecular Orbital) for a BEDT-TTF dimer.
The figures are taken from this paper by Edan Scriven and Ben Powell.
However, things are more subtle than I would have thought.
Here are some of the significant effects that result from these two different conformations. They have different energies and by thermal annealing in a crystal you can convert between them.
As a result disorder in a crystal can be controlled by varying the cooling rate.
In some materials there is even a glass transition around 80 Kelvin.
Examples of the dramatic effects of the disorder can be seen.
Resistance vs. temperature curve (see for example the figure below taken from here).
Suppression of the superconducting transition temperature.
This can be seen in the curves above.
Electrical noise experiments
Another dramatic effect of the ethylene groups that is much larger than most people expect is
Isotopic substitution of the hydrogen with deuterium in the ethylene groups can drive the Mott metal-insulator transition.
This somehow arises from a geometrical isotope effect associated with hydrogen bonds between the ethylene groups and the anion.
It turns out that changing the conformation of the end group can have a significant effect on the parameters in the Hubbard model, that is the simplest possible effective Hamiltonian for these materials.
This is shown in this recent paper which estimates these parameters using DFT-based electronic structure calculations and Wannier orbitals to map onto a tight-binding model.
Influence of molecular conformations on the electronic structure of organic charge transfer salts
Daniel Guterding, Roser Valentí, and Harald O. Jeschke
In particular in going from Eclipsed (E) to Staggered (S) or visa versa is enough to cross the Mott insulator-metal phase boundary.
This provides a framework to understand the experimental puzzles discussed above.
One minor quibble.
The authors estimate the Hubbard paper U (Coulomb interaction) for two holes on a BEDT-TTF dimer with a formula which is only valid in a particular limit.
The general formula for the energy of two electrons on a two site Hubbard model is
Scriven and Powell argue is not the case.
This will lead to quantitative changes but not change the main point that the conformational changes can produce a significant change in the Hubbard model parameters; particularly a large enough change to cross the Mott insulator-metal phase boundary.
Later I will write about the noise measurements (which I puzzled about before) which turn out to be a very sensitive probe of these two molecular conformations and their interconversion.
I thank Jens Muller for very helpful discussions about this work.